The ideal free distribution as an evolutionarily stable strategy

Robert Stephen Cantrell, Chris Cosner, Donald L. Deangelis, Victor Padron

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

63 Scopus citations


We examine the evolutionary stability of strategies for dispersal in heterogeneous patchy environments or for switching between discrete states (e.g. defended and undefended) in the context of models for population dynamics or species interactions in either continuous or discrete time. There have been a number of theoretical studies that support the view that in spatially heterogeneous but temporally constant environments there will be selection against unconditional, i.e. random, dispersal, but there may be selection for certain types of dispersal that are conditional in the sense that dispersal rates depend on environmental factors. A particular type of dispersal strategy that has been shown to be evolutionarily stable in some settings is balanced dispersal, in which the equilibrium densities of organisms on each patch are the same whether there is dispersal or not. Balanced dispersal leads to a population distribution that is ideal free in the sense that at equilibrium all individuals have the same fitness and there is no net movement of individuals between patches or states. We find that under rather general assumptions about the underlying population dynamics or species interactions, only such ideal free strategies can be evolutionarily stable. Under somewhat more restrictive assumptions (but still in considerable generality), we show that ideal free strategies are indeed evolutionarily stable. Our main mathematical approach is invasibility analysis using methods from the theory of ordinary differential equations and nonnegative matrices. Our analysis unifies and extends previous results on the evolutionary stability of dispersal or state-switching strategies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)249-271
Number of pages23
JournalJournal of biological dynamics
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 2007


  • Discrete diffusion
  • Evolution of dispersal
  • Evolutionarily stable strategy
  • Ideal free distribution

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology


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